Chris Folkerts revolutionized the concentrate market by developing a line of personal, portable vaporizers that introduced the world to digitized cannabis consumption.
His company, Grenco Science, launched their flagship product, the G Pen, in 2012.
Since then, Grenco Science has become an industry byword for quality and innovation. Their family of products has now been extended to include the Gio, Pro, Elite, and the recently debuted Nova.
We spoke with Folkerts about the company’s culture, building a lifestyle-tech brand, and being an industry innovator.
From the Analog into the Digital Era
Chris Folkerts has advocated for cannabis for more than 24 years. The Belleville, Illinois native was first introduced to the plant when he was 13 years old.
Cannabis appealed to him right away. “It was something that spoke to me. When I started to use it, it was understood as a drug, then as a medicine,” he explained, before eventually using it recreationally.
Folkerts attributes the medical cannabis movement for breaking the stigma and challenging stereotypes. But, it’s safe to say that he also played an important part in revolutionizing the industry too — by blending cutting edge technology with cannabis consumption he brought it into the modern era.
Folkerts began his career as a concert promoter, touring the country and managed hip-hop and rock bands. His career in the music industry brought him to California in 2009.
Three years later, he launched G Pen, becoming one of the first vaporizer companies to develop a vape for cannabis concentrates.
The inspiration for the device came from e-cigarettes, Folkerts explained.
The first e-cig he saw, he recalls, had cotton as a wick. “While it worked, it wasn’t effective in getting users high,” Folkerts said. He also noticed that most devices, at the time, did not come with refills. That was his “aha!” moment.
Folkerts wanted to create the vape pen because he “saw the power behind it and converted it from analog to digital, more or less.”
From there he developed the G Pen, which hit the California market in 2012. In doing so, the brand became synonymous for vape pens, much like Kleenex became a generic term for tissues. Some even credit the brand for making vape pens famous.
An Instrument for Acceptance
The company was undoubtedly instrumental in taking the stigma about off concentrates. Vapes in general, Folkerts asserts, help take away the stigma of smoking cannabis because there’s a big difference between heat combustion and lighting something with a lighter.
The G Pen introduced new technology and a new way of consuming cannabis. Grenco Science is recognized as a pioneer of the Californian concentrate market for that reason.
Having a device that’s portable, and discreet all in one system has, Folkerts said, “been very instrumental in building acceptance.”
The G Pen’s sleek designs and ease of use make it a popular choice among consumers.
“It’s functional and ergonomic,” he said, “it feels good in the hand.”
G Pen products are recognized for their superior form and function. However, the brand isn’t just focused on product innovation; but also, making vaping a more meaningful experience.
“We’ve always considered ourselves a lifestyle-tech brand,” Folkerts said.
To achieve this, Folkerts pulls on his experience in the music industry to build partnerships with musicians, athletes, and artists. G Pen brand ambassadors include Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, and Berner.
The company also established “the Charity Series; a collection of products tied to nonprofit organizations wherein a portion of net proceeds are donated with each purchase; and the Artist Series, an installment of collaborations with industry-leading artists and brand ambassadors.”
“We’ve done everything from a collaboration with Burton Snowboards, and the artist Phil Frost, [and having a] Coachella party,” he added, which was attended by School Boy Q, Action Bronson, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan.
“It’s all about creating that [interactive] component,” he added.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The music and cannabis industries have plenty of parallels, Folkerts said. Much like putting on a concert or event, “There’s an army of people that make things happen […].”
“It’s passion, people’s livelihoods, [and it’s about the] work ethic,” he added.
The staff — most of which have been with him since founding the company seven years ago — are all “willing to roll up their sleeves and do anything that’s needed of them. There’s no ‘that’s not my job attitude’.”
He credits his team and company culture for the success of Grenco Science. His leadership style very much reflects that; “without the team, its just my ideas.”
With that success has also come challenges. Some of those hiccups include issues scaling to size, ordering, misprints, and failed partnerships, Folkerts described — but he and the Grenco Science team see those as learning opportunities.
“Having a company that’s growing too fast, and a team that’s not experienced in scaling [….] you can find yourself behind a lightning bolt,” he explained. What matters is adaptability, and the willingness to learn, he added.
“We are fortunate to surround ourselves with a team that took us from to being a label to becoming a brand.”
The company remains committed to developing cutting edge technology, said Folkerts, alluding to the introduction of new technology later this year.
Jason Washington: Creating a Global Cannabis Kulture
Jason Washington is a successful entrepreneur both in and out of the cannabis industry. He is also the second person in U.S. history to face a jury trial proceeding on a state-licensed medical marijuana case. His story is a powerful reminder that the most dangerous thing about the cannabis plant is the grey area that surrounds its legal status.
In 2011, Washington’s Big Sky Health dispensary was the largest legal operation in Montana. And despite medical marijuana being legal in the state since 2004, the Feds raided him. At trial, he was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cannabis and possession with intent to distribute. His judge deviated from the mandatory minimum sentence guidelines of 10 years, instead sentencing the former University of Montana Grizzly quarterback to two years in federal prison. In October 2014, his original sentence was reduced from 24 to 21 months, with the judge ordering Washington’s immediate release.
Washington returned to his home state of California where his natural aptitude for business saw him start several successful companies, including Ignite with Matthew Morgan and Dan Bilzerian.
Fueled by his desire to help those who had been wrongly incarcerated like himself, Washington went on to found Kulture, a full-service cannabis agency with a twist — you have to have a proven legacy with the plant to make the cut. The company has cultivation, extraction and manufacturing operations in five different states: Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to Washington about his loyalty to legacy operators, his advice to newcomers to the industry, and his plans for a global cannabis network.
CA: What sets Kulture apart from other cannabis agencies?
Jason Washington: One of the mandatory stipulations for being accepted or invited into the Kulture family is that you have to be a legacy operator. And a legacy operator suggests basically that you have a proven track record of 10 plus years in the cannabis space. You’re someone that was in this when it wasn’t just the latest “cool” business venture for Ivy League grads.
My directors of indoor cultivation are Bill and Jeff Levers aka the Beard Brothers, who are legacy operators. We’ve been running together for over two years — longer than Kulture has been established. Our philosophies and ideologies align. In fact, their commitment to helping veterans inspired the backpacks in our new clothing line; these are based on tactical gear as a salute to our veterans.
Why is this so important to you?
The pioneers of this industry have not been able to participate in the new legal market. A lot of people have made a lot of money off the backs of those who are now deemed criminals. Guys like me — those with weed felonies or federal felonies — aren’t looking for handouts. To be honest, I don’t know how to solve the problem. I just know that the problem exists.
Tell me more about your new clothing line and how it’s helping to change the stigma around cannabis?
Some very successful brands started with clothing in emerging markets just for brand awareness. For me, it’s about establishing normalcy like any other brand. In California, Prop 64 means we have been able to normalize the use of cannabis as a recreational drug. And as a very beneficial medical alternative to pharmaceuticals and other forms of pain management. Cannabis is becoming more and more acceptable, and it’s one more facet of people’s lives.
I’ve been in the cannabis game for a long time, so for me, the clothing line is new and exciting. Normalizing cannabis is the main reason I’ve launched it. The style is influenced by what my cultivators wear when they’re in the facilities. It ties into the Kulture lifestyle and appeals to a lot of different demographics.
What are your expansion plans for Kulture?
Here’s the thing, cannabis doesn’t only help people in America. There’s a whole world of people that need this plant and our help and expertise. We have to focus on more than just America and more than our little micro-environments. I see Kulture as a 300-person global agency with offices in America, South America and somewhere in Europe or Africa. I see it as a combination that brings together the best cannabis talent in the world. Where the brightest minds come together under one roof to provide the best cannabis for everybody to enjoy.
What’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when people are talking about cannabis legalization?
The conversation around inclusion needs to be further expanded upon. There’s still a lot of people that are in jail for this plant.
Another problem is people riding social equity but did not serve a day in jail or have never been prosecuted or raided. People get pushed to the front because they say, “I grew up in this neighborhood or I grew up in that neighborhood.” But those who were affected or who served time are not able to obtain a license. For example, I live in California, but my charge is federal, is in the state of Montana. So I can’t get an equity license in California because my charges did not originate in California. I’d have to go back to the state of Montana to participate or to be a license holder.
Look, I understand why states have said that in order for you to be an equity applicant the crime or the charge has to have been committed in that state or jurisdiction. I totally get that. But it’s keeping guys that went to federal prison for cannabis-related crimes shut out. They’re kept from participating from a licensing standpoint because their charge originated in a different jurisdiction than where they reside. Most federal indictments are brought in different jurisdictions than your home state.
How do you think the cannabis industry can be better?
The biggest thing is if all these new executives and people coming into the space entered with more knowledge. They can’t get the experience, I get it. But at least the knowledge and understanding of what so many people have sacrificed for so long and went through. Understand the culture. Don’t completely strip cannabis of everything it’s been for so long and turn it into spreadsheets and mass production. Because that’s not what it is.
I get bringing a more professional business environment to the space; more legitimacy, more scientific data and more research-based products to market. But at the same time, don’t forget those who have given you this opportunity. Don’t forget how you got here and the sacrifice that was made to allow you to participate in this industry.
What do you wish you knew when you first started out in cannabis?
The power of the federal government and what substitute asset forfeiture meant. Haha.
What are the three qualities you need to be a successful cannabis entrepreneur?
I think perseverance is one of the biggest. I’ve been in it for 12 years and I’ve seen people come and go who don’t have the character and the stamina to fight through all that you have to fight through — whether it’s local municipalities, competition, or failed crops. You’ve got to be an innovator. You’ve got to be someone who is a survivor and a fighter.
Do you have a career highlight?
There’s one thing that really sticks out to me to this day and it was when we opened the first Montana dispensary. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% sold on the medical benefits of cannabis at first until one particular firsthand account from a mother. I was her son’s caregiver; her son was 13 or 14 years old and was epileptic. She came in one day and broke down crying because she didn’t have to go to the streets for cannabis anymore. She said, “You have no idea how much I admire and respect your courage and how much you helped my son. You guys being here and taking care of us has been like God answering my prayers.” It was very heavy and very emotional.
Hearing those kinds of stories and testimonials gave me the strength to stand up for what I was doing and believed in at the time. It still does to this day.
Believe it or not, I don’t look at federal prison as the worst thing that ever happened to me. It gave me the opportunity to sit back, reflect and learn from the choices and decisions that I’ve made. Maybe mistakes, maybe not mistakes.
Any advice for anyone that’s thinking of getting into cannabis?
If you’re thinking about getting into it now, you need to position yourself and prepare yourself for the long haul. You’re only warming up after five years in the space. This is a daily education. Cannabis is unique in a sense, it’s not like any other businesses. You can apply past experiences from other businesses ventures. But the hands-on education that you get on a day to day basis is like no other.
Brett Stevens: Lighting the Way for Indoor Cultivators
Brett Stevens of Fohse is on a mission to make his company’s name synonymous with hi-tech LED grow lights for the cannabis industry.
At Fohse, meeting the challenges faced by indoor cannabis cultivators with superior lighting solutions is the prime directive. It’s a niche that co-founder and CEO Brett Stevens says is rife with opportunity for those with the talent to innovate. A serial entrepreneur with several successful exits in new and emerging markets under his belt, Stevens is now firmly focused on the cannabis industry.
“I originally got into the farming side of it, and I could definitely see where at that time, five or six years ago, there were so many holes that needed to be filled. It was kind of like, pick a side and go with it,” Stevens told Cannabis Aficionado.
The sector he believed had the most potential to impact the cannabis industry was engineering, and Stevens had kept his ear to the ground for tech opportunities, specifically for cannabis. So, when an engineer friend shared his design for advanced LED lighting, he saw a chance to bring value to a nascent industry.
For Las Vegas-based Fohse, the vision is to continually expand the tech in the cannabis industry, and Stevens is proud and unapologetic about the company’s focus.
“We’ve pigeonholed ourselves into the cannabis industry. We didn’t create the light for any other plant,” he explained. “We are sold on the plant. We’re sold on the medical purposes of the plant, and we really want to be there as the plant is more readily explored.”
In order to be true innovators, Fohse doesn’t settle for the services of outside engineers. Instead, the company has its own in-house engineering team creating cannabis lighting solutions from the ground up. Stevens touched on SolidWorks, a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) program, that Fohse’s engineering team uses for their technical drawings.
“We do all our material science, and we do all of our material engineering to make sure that the materials we’re using to dissipate heat or to project that photon where it needs to go [are sound]. We’re doing all that in-house.” he explained.
A Company Driven by the Question, “What If?”
Stevens noted that he’s not one to micromanage his executive team though. Instead, he said that his leadership style is to assemble a solid corps of professionals and let them go to work. And as inspiration, he encourages his engineers to continuously ask, “What if?”
“What if we could do ten pounds a light?” he wondered aloud. “What if we could do four micromoles per joule? How would we do that?”
“We’re consistently thinking, ‘How can we be more efficient, and more powerful?’ And I think that’s what drives me,” he added.
According to Stevens, the combined talent and drive at Fohse are producing the most advanced LED lights available to cannabis cultivators. And that’s not just an assertion. It’s a claim that is backed by the company’s research.
“We are literally the most powerful and the most efficient light in the world right now,” Stevens said, adding that Fohse has done grow ops where they have bought and tested every single competitor’s light.
“There’s no question,” Stevens states confidently. “We will outgrow anything on the market.”
Creating an Industry Standard for Indoor Cannabis Cultivators
When his company entered the business, Stevens says the light manufacturing industry was racing to the bottom, with everyone trying to produce the cheapest lamps that would still grow cannabis. But Fohse took a different approach altogether.
“We looked at it more like, ‘What if we put massive power supplies and 5,000 diodes in a light?’ and ‘What if we could replicate indoor sunlight?’” he explained, adding that they focused closely on grams per square foot.
“Because in the end, that’s what it comes down to, right?” he asked. “If you have a finite amount of space, the more you can grow in that area, the more productive and the more successful you’ll be.”
Constantly striving to increase productivity and efficiency for indoor cannabis cultivators is what the team at Fohse is all about. And that drive, Stevens says, will become increasingly evident when the company’s products are known as the industry standard.
“I think that we’re hungry, that we’re always advancing. We will not stop until we will reach the absolute pinnacle,” he pledged.
Michael Trzecieski: The ‘World’s Coolest Bong’ Design Director
Every now and then, a game-changing product comes along that tempts us to throw all other gadgets and glass out the window. The Stüdenglass gravity bong is one such product. Chances are you know of the bong through the viral video showing contemporary stoner icon Seth Rogen gripped by a coughing fit after one hit — cementing the bong’s place in counterculture legend.
The original product was conceived by ex-Apple alumni Tracey Huston, who filed the patent back in 2016. Recently, Stüdenglass was acquired by one of the most innovative — and coolest — cannabis companies, Grenco Science. Shortly after, Michael Trzecieski, founder of Vapium and tech-designer extraordinaire, took up the challenge of refining the state-of-the-art mounted gravity bong for top-shelf aficionados.
Cannabis Aficionado caught up with Trzecieski to talk about the synergies between weed and tech, how the Stüdenglass has improved, and, of course, that Seth Rogen video.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.
Michael Trzecieski: Growing up in Canada has afforded me many opportunities but there are two that have been the most formative — the first was becoming a Roboticist and the second was to witness and experience a country who showed true compassion toward cannabis as medicine. I was allowed to see the power of the plant without shame or indignity.
My journey as a Roboticist started in fibre optics, engineering micro-robotic toys. At the same time, Canada was making enormous strides towards full legalization. The timing, coupled with my desire to support the medical cannabis consumer, allowed me to shift my focus and passion — making a different kind of robot to support the people who needed it most. With this goal in mind, I took my years of experience in safety and controls (from toys being so heavily regulated) and applied this to making our first haptic vaporizer back in 2012.
Can you share your thoughts around the synergy between tech and cannabis?
Tech allows users to titrate their cannabis experience so they can choose to consume at various levels. Traditional methods of consumption are not always effective for all patients, and innovation is paramount for harm reduction and efficiencies. It is essential to have clean air intake, temperature stabilization. Temperature stabilization allows the vaporizing device to toast the leaf material instead of combusint it using a closed-loop temperature stabilization feedback system. At lower temperatures consumers can experience improved terpene profiles while at higher temperatures they may enjoy stronger effects.
What were the things you set out to achieve when designing the Stündenglass gravity bong?
The new Stündenglass glass gravity bong was designed for aesthetics, precision machining and cleaner vapor. We also wanted to provide a more comfortable user experience. Through the kinetic motion activation, vapours are sucked into an upper chamber and as water rushes from the upper chamber to lower chamber, the vapor percolates through the flowing water stream and offers vapour filtration as well as vapor cooling.
Tell us about the materials and why you chose them.
The materials chosen for the Stündenglass were predominantly glass and metal.
Glass offers a supreme taste, it is easy to clean, and it does not attract vapor and oil particles.
Stainless steel was also chosen as one of the core elements in the device because of its cleanliness as well as its ability to be precision-machined and for its high wearability in the valve portion of the device.
Anodized aluminium was also utilized for its durability and longevity.
What’s your favorite thing about the Stündenglass gravity bong?
It’s magical. The kinetic motion activation allows the device to both suck vapour as well as expel vapor at the same time, and provides percolation and water vapor filtration. There are also many magnetic components because magnets are also kind of magical.
Stündenglass was recently acquired by Grenco Science. Can you tell us details of how this exciting acquisition came about?
We first got to know Tracey Huston, and it was immediately apparent that there was a synergy between the brands, with a shared goal of innovation and improving upon the user experience. We recognized the ingenuity behind Stündenglass and understood how we could help by bringing this product into Grenco Science’s global expansion plan. From there it was a natural next step to bring Stündenglass into the Grenco Science umbrella.
How has the device evolved since its initial prototype?
The initial prototype was a very functional and utilitarian type unit. The design was since improved for its aesthetics, robustness, as well as the modularity. Furthermore, the percolation was an added feature and an improvement over the first model.
Subsequent models have allowed for modularity. The modules may be removed and taken apart, cleaned and accessorized, as well as replaced with other future potential attachments and improvements. A wall mount was also provided.
The viral video of Seth Rogen with his Stündenglass put the gravity bong on the wish-list of every aficionado, cementing its place in cannabis culture legend. How did it come about?
It was very organic. An early prototype was given to someone in Seth Rogen’s family, who then gave it to him. It was his own idea to create the video and share the experience online.
What tech trends do you predict for the cannabis industry over the next five years?
The bigger tech trends in the cannabis industry include dosing and data. Many customers want to be able to monitor their dosages as well as have data associated with their consumption, like what a Fitbit tracker does for fitness. This will allow producers to develop more meaningful formulations for their consumers as the data and dosing science evolves.
How do your products help shift the stigma about cannabis?
Our products help the ship the stigma on cannabis by bringing technology to the industry. This tech comes in the form of improved heating technologies, industrial design, safer material choices and temperature stabilized heating control loops.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when talking about cannabis?
That cannabis is a medicine. We are only beginning to uncover its real potential as legalization around the world grows.
How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?
Accountability. One of the major issues in the industry at the moment is a lack of accountability and a lack of safety and testing standards. There are still some operators that are looking to make a quick buck from unassuming consumers, and last year’s vape crisis was a direct result of that.
The cannabis industry is just in its beginning stages and needs to evolve. With this evolution there will be added accountability and more rules and regulations to ensure it’s safer for all.
What do you wish you knew when you started out in cannabis entrepreneurship?
I wish I knew that it was not going to be easy, and this holds true for any entrepreneurship. Finding the right people and putting together the right team is really important. It took us years to finally find the right partners and the right people to work with. This allowed us to evolve from a smaller operation to a larger entity.
Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?
I would say the first thing is creativity. You have to be full of ideas; you have to understand how to change the game; and how to make a difference, not just fit in. As the industry quickly evolves with ever changing rules and regulations, you need to keep your head in the game. It’s an industry for sharp minded entrepreneurs who know they can make a difference.
You’ve got to be tenacious, never take no for an answer, and keep on pushing for what you want to achieve going forward. No one’s going to do it for you. You need to drive your creativity home to others and have them believe in you.
You need to show up and be present in order to know what the industry is about. You need to be present at trade shows, events and gatherings where you can meet the right people in order to develop the right relationships.
Follow Michael Trzecieski on Linkedin.